Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bee's-eye view

"Urban beekeeping has been growing in popularity for several years. Opéra Garnier, the Paris opera house, has kept hives humming on the roof for more than a quarter of a century." When I read this, I had to know more. And I found more - in the form of some spectacular and luminous photos by committed French photographer Eric Tourneret (see his website and his blog). Tourneret brings attention to the precarious status of the world's bee population, and depicts Jean Paucton at the age of 76 on the roof of the Opera (1st and 2nd images), in the Parc de la Villette (3rd image), and in the garden of his home in Coignières in the Yvelines ( 4th image). Paucton began his beekeeping avocation decades ago. He took courses at the Luxembourg gardens and now teaches classes himself on raising bees to children and adults. The fireman on staff at the Opera, who bred fish in the building's underground pond, gave the prop man the idea of setting up an apiary on the rooftop. He lugged his 1st hive up the 7 floors and when he came back to pick it up 2 weeks later, he found it already full of honey. ''They make more honey here than they do in the countryside,'' Paucton tells the New York Times. He now has 5 hives, harvesting over 100 kilos of honey per hive - 5 times what the bees produce in his garden or in the park. He finds the urban setting ideal because the milder temperature allows the bees to go out more and they have a more diverse range of flora - including linden and chestnut trees - than the treated local fields. “When I went up onto the roof one week after setting up my first hive, it was a veritable honey house. Honey was dripping everywhere! It was a very flavorful honey, with notes of lemon and mint. This is not at all an ordinary honey, like that from rape[seed] or sunflower.” He sells it at Fauchon for 15€ per 125g jar to customers who are seduced by the source, although Paucton admits, "It would work on the Eiffel Tower also." The jars make for unique souvenirs. “I have become despite myself the most famous beekeeper in the world," says Paucton, who uses his notoriety to the advantage of the insects. “Urban apiculture is a way of making people understand what is happening in the beekeeping world. When bees die out, the environment is really in danger.”

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